Heroic Coven of Shivarra — bring your bookie

Last night our guild took another stab at Heroic Coven of Shivarra in Antorus the Burning Throne. It was our second venture into it, and we were unsuccessful. It’s not like we have run up against a brick wall or anything on this boss — think we only have something like 25-30 Heroic wipes so far. And I suspect we will kill it next week. But there is something about this fight that just feels wrong — a frustrating powerlessness that makes it more akin to a game of chance than the kind of tough boss fight Blizz used to design.

For those who have not been on the raid, Coven is a council-type boss fight, with three bosses that switch out so that you fight any two of them at once. At intervals, various types of large adds appear around the room. The adds are quite powerful, and failure to deal properly with them will wipe the raid, as will failure to deal with the various continuous damage powers of the bosses. At any given time, the raid is dealing with 3-4 or more simultaneous mechanics, and it can get quite hectic.

This in itself is not bad — kind of standard fare in modern raids. What strikes me as different about this raid is the extent to which raid composition and pure luck play a role in success. Yeah, I know there have been other tiers where certain boss kills were somewhat dependent on luck, but Coven seems to be in a class all its own for its dependence on these factors. Two examples:

  • Location of safe spots during the storm AoE. This AoE will kill you unless you are standing in one of several randomly-located safe spots for the duration. If most or all of these safe spots spawn on top of other one-shot mechanics, the raid will wipe. And this happens regularly.
  • Order of adds. Certain types of adds are much more difficult (ok, almost impossible) to survive if they spawn at certain points in the fight (Norgannon adds during Storm, for example, or during the targeted freeze mechanic or during the mass-slow mechanic). There are only four types of adds, so the chances of drawing a raid-wiping combo of them are pretty high.

The above are the major RNG factors, but there are a ton of minor ones, too. If a player gets more than one random targeted debuff — which seems to happen with distressing regularity — and happens to not be at full health when they hit, the player will almost certainly die. If a player happens to get the frozen debuff during Norgannon adds, that player will almost certainly die to the adds. And there are countless other debuff combos that will insta-kill you, all of them the result of random targeting.

Also, as I mentioned, the raid composition heavily influences your chances for success. One that is heavy on melee has almost no chance of killing this boss, and in fact any raid that is not nearly all ranged will have significantly more difficulty than one that is. Classes with shorter defensive cooldowns are at a distinct advantage over ones with, say only 1 or 2 long defensive cooldowns. And druids and DKs are really the classes of choice for their exceptionally efffective cc abilities for the Norgannon adds. Blizz is once again rewarding us for bringing the class, not the player.

When you add all this up, you get a raid boss that seems — more than any other thus far in the game — to require more luck than skill to beat. (Interestingly, in Mythic — so I am told, I do not know it firsthand — the order of adds for this boss is fixed instead of random. Can’t be introducing uncertainty for the professional players, can we now? After all, they are the primary target audience for this game.)

As I said above, we will almost certainly kill this boss within a week or so, and eventually we will outgear it so that we can roflstomp through. But that is not the point. The point is, that while the mechanic design for this boss may have been relatively decent, the RNG implementation of nearly every aspect of that design — along with the cascading effect on raid composition — is terrible.

Most raid teams consider Coven to be the most challenging boss in the raid, harder even than Argus, the final boss, another indication that it is badly implemented. Sorry, but I belong to the camp that still believes the final boss should be the most difficult one…

I have complained before about what I consider to be Legion’s over-reliance on RNG for nearly every aspect of the game. But the introduction of large-scale randomness even in a raid boss seems to be approaching a jump-the-shark point in the game. It is not fun™ to be put in a position in a boss fight where you know either you as a player will die or the raid will wipe and there is nothing you can or could have done to prevent it. You can ignore it to an extent if it is an exceptionally rare occurrence. But when it happens with the frequency it seems to in Coven, it is a worrisome trend. This is not the WoW raid design that drew me to the activity in the first place.

When Legion is in our rear-view mirrors, will we see its RNG pervasiveness as the point where Blizz recognized they had gone too far, or as the jumping-off point for a new genre: the Massively Multiplayer Online Game of Chance?

On that low note, it is time to start the weekend. See you on the other side.

Legendary follies continue

There are times when you almost have to admire Blizzard’s steadfast commitment to major blunders. Even when they publicly admit certain designs were mistakes, their response is usually to not only keep the bad design but also double down on it. (Think of WoD’s garrisons as a perfect example.)

It’s like there is a corporate attitude, when faced with the consequences of an obvious design mistake, of going big or going home. They seem incapable of any semblance of organized retreat, all they can do is cram the mistake down our throats.

Which brings me, of course, to the subject of Legion legendary gear. As I have written before (here and here for example), I consider the Legion legendary design to be one of the worst Blizz has ever done. Even Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas has, on more than one occasion, begrudgingly mumbled something about maybe they could have done a better job implementing the idea.

My main complaint about Legion legendaries is that Blizz tried to do too much with them in terms of their gear effects, and in the process they created a number of “must-have” pieces for a lot of specs. Sometimes these “good” legendaries were just bandaids to cover over bad spec design, sometimes they had effects that eventually turned out to be super powers for the spec. Bad enough, but then add in the whole RNG aspect of them, and Blizz created a world of player winners and losers based almost solely on luck. Eventually, even the RNGeniuses at Blizz realized this and made some tweaks designed to even out the relative values of legendaries. They were not entirely successful — there are still some “must-haves” for a couple of specs — but the endeavor met the new Blizz corporate standard of Good Enough.

Another fallout of Legion legendaries is that they made it difficult to easily swap to off specs, or to develop alts to the point where they were geared sufficiently to be fun to play. (And yes, I know I will get responses from some of you out there claiming you had no problem getting 6 legendaries each on all your druid off specs as well as on all 10 of your alts, and you did it in a weekend. Shut up. You’re lying.) Worse for unlucky players waiting weeks to get off spec or alt legendaries, Blizz’s claimed “bad luck insurance” algorithm apparently only goes so far as to increase the odds of a legendary dropping, it does nothing to help an unlucky player actually get a useful one once it finally does drop. (Yeah, Ion, nothing more fun™ than an RNG drop of a useless legendary and knowing it will be weeks before you get another chance at the lotto.)

For those few players who managed to get every legendary for every spec in their class, Blizz dipped once more into their Suggestion Box For Ways to Screw With the Players and came up with this: if a character has all possible legendaries for all specs in their class, the next time you win the RNG lottery, you will get — hold onto your hats —

A totally random legendary for a totally random class and spec you may not even have as an alt!!! What fun™!!

I am not even going to go into the doubling down actions Blizz took when they added a special raid-only set of non-legendary legendaries to the current raid tier. Or the fact that Blizz cheesed out and refused to upgrade our old ones (as they did in WoD) when the new ones rose in ilevel, instead opting to make us grind for weeks to get the stuff to upgrade each one individually. As if the mess they had made thus far was not enough.

And now comes Patch 7.3.5, and Blizz’s next installation of making the whole legendary mess worse and then shoving it in our faces.

On January 6, CM Lore grandly announced that Patch 7.3.5 would give us an additional way to obtain legendaries: we could use the same stuff (Wakening Essences) we now collect in order to upgrade our old legendaries. For the price of 175 of these things, we could get a token that would award a legendary appropriate to the class/spec of the character earning the essences.

OK, might be kind of cool, we all could see some possibilities there.

However, in typical fashion, this idea arrived half-baked. Some players immediately began to try to get 175 essences on as many characters as they could. They discovered that, if they had been diligent and already upgraded all of their legendaries, they could not obtain the quest to collect essences, thus they could not work on their 175. On the other hand, characters that had not rushed to upgrade legendaries still had the quest and could keep renewing it as long as they kept at least one legendary at 970 level.

This seemed like a bug, so a few players complained to Blizz.

Blizz did a double-take, because apparently it had not occurred to them that we sneaky players would actually try to collect essences before 7.3.5 went live. I mean, the very idea gave them the vapors! So they went into emergency session, and on January 8, CM Lore announced this:

A few additional details on the new Legendary token:

  • We’ve just pushed a hotfix live that makes Wakening Essences drop for everyone, regardless of whether you’re on the quest or not.
  • We’ll also be dramatically increasing both the number of Essences required to purchase tokens and the rate at which you gain them in Patch 7.3.5. The overall time investment needed to purchase a token will stay roughly the same, but this will minimize the benefits of stockpiling Essences ahead of time.
    • Note: Emissary bags earned prior to the release of 7.3.5 will still give pre-7.3.5 numbers of Essences. There is no benefit to saving Emissary bags until afer the patch.
  • We also plan to add Wakening Essences to your first Battleground win of the day in 7.3.5.
  • The tokens are bind-on-pickup, because we don’t want to overly encourage players to farm Essences on alt characters in order to feed Legendary items to their mains. However, if you purchase and use a token on a character that already has all of the available legendaries for their class, you will be given a random BoA token for another class.

Really, Blizz? Really? After all the legendary angst you’ve inflicted on us for more than a year because of your slipshod design and half-assed implementation, you have the balls to begrudge us the tiniest semblance of control? And pardon me, Mr. alt-phobic Hazzikostas, but could you kindly keep the voices in your head from leaking out? What the hell do you care if I or anyone else wants to have alts that send gear or mats or gold or enchants or gems or whatever to my main, or indeed vice-versa? It has no appreciable effect on the game as a whole, and frankly it is none of your goddamn business how I choose to use my alts. (And not for nothin’, but I suspect most players who care at all about legendaries would likely use their main to supply this gear to their alts, not the other way around.)

The vast majority of players are not in a position to “take advantage” of the first-announced 7.3.5 change in any meaningful way — they do not have the time, or they do not have sufficiently equipped alts, or they simply do not care about their gear level or their legendaries any more because it is the end of the expansion. So the latest move to stop what Blizz believes would be a heinous gaming of the system is in fact aimed at what we now must admit is Blizz’s only important customer base: the less than 1% of top tier players who aspire to competitive fame.

Blizz, do you really think the game would disintegrate if, this late in the expansion, you gave us BoA legendary tokens (both from the essence trade-in and as a result of getting one after you have all the ones in your class), ones any character could turn in and get a relevant legendary? In fact, what would it hurt if indeed these tokens allowed us to actually — better sit down for this one — choose our desired legendary?

WoW used to be a game for the masses, but now it is designed for the elite. It used to allow millions of players to shape their own play style and enjoy the game in their own way, but now the Blizz Central Committee dictates a smaller and smaller range of permitted play styles and personal objectives. What a shame it has come to this.

2018 – My year of alts?

I hope everyone had a great holiday. I certainly did, but I won’t deny it is good to be back to a routine. The house is back to its normal non-decorated self, all the bad-for-you Christmas cookies and fudge and such have been gobbled or otherwise disposed of, the relatives have gone home, the parties are over, and there is no need for constant cheer.

O, comfortable rut, how I missed you!

Anyway, I did get in a lot of WoW play time while on break. Mostly I took the opportunity to develop a few of my alts that have been so badly neglected this entire expansion. It occurs to me that our raid team will soon — probably within a month — be done with Heroic Antorus TBT, and then things will essentially be set on “coast” for the remainder of Legion. Sure, we will still raid a couple of times a week, but after progression it is mainly just fun runs and getting Ahead of the Curve for non-raiders, along with some gear. I doubt if we will be doing any Mythic attempts, as once we finish Heroic (currently 8/11) it gets hard to corral enough core raiders to get to 20. So I am not holding my breath on that, and honestly I am kind of looking forward to a respite.

I think we are in for a pretty long “content drought” this year — typical end-of-expansion doldrums. It seems unlikely that we will see Battle for Azeroth before Blizzcon. We do not even have a hint of an Alpha much less a Beta yet, and we are probably still a month or two away from Patch 7.3.5. Also, I cannot imagine Blizz going into a Blizzcon without something big to hype. So my main bet is that we will have Legion for most of the rest of 2018.

Still, I have to admit that Blizz has surprised me with their delivery of Legion content. I may quibble with their definition of the term, but I cannot deny that they have carried out the exact schedule they promised. If anything, Legion has given us too much to do. It is because of this recent history that I think there is a (slim) possibility that Blizz has a surprise or two left for us in Legion. Also, I do not think Ion Hazzikostas wants to risk players leaving Legion with a bad taste in their mouths because it dwindled to nothing for months on end.

I hope they are not banking on everyone being content to level their new allied race character for 8-10 months. (Although the cynic in me says that slowing down the leveling process while at the same time offering new races to level is absolutely not a coincidence…)

If there are Legion surprises (and remember I think it is a long shot), what they may be are anyone’s guess. After 7.3.5 there could be one or two small “fun” patches before we get 8.0 in preparation for BfA. These could offer some quality of life fixes, some new scenario-type activities, maybe some new timewalking stuff, maybe even a mini-raid.

Additionally, I think there is a tiny chance that all the WoW prognosticators and pundits are wrong, and we will get BfA much sooner than anyone expects. I have no real basis for this, but it still tickles at the back of my brain that there seems to be a very fuzzy line between BfA and 7.3.5 development. Patch 7.3.5 may be a Trojan horse of sorts, a way to sneak in a lot of BfA design and testing without actually admitting that is what is going on. If Blizz can limit the new things that a Beta has to test (and remember they have said that BfA will have very few major class changes), they might be able to bring the new expansion to live servers faster than most of us anticipate.

But as I said, both the “Legion surprise” and “early BfA” theories are extreme long shots. What is more likely is that we will have Legion for nearly all of 2018, with only allied characters to keep us busy. Which means I will have a nice long time to immerse myself in my favorite part of every expansion: the “content drought” period most people hate. With that thought in mind, I spent a good deal of my break time playing my alts.

Anyway, back to my alts. I am not even close to being an altoholic. I have basically a main and 7 alts, plus a bank alt and usually one or two low level alts that I play for a few days and then delete. Of my 7 alts, all but one are level 110, with varying gear levels. All are Alliance and all are on the same server. I have tried Horde alts from time to time but just do not enjoy that whole fantasy. Also, I have no dwarf or Draenei characters. If I had to pick a favorite race, it would be a tossup between Pandaren and Night Elves. All but one of my alts are female. My alt specs are either damage dealers (slightly more ranged than melee) or healers, no tanks.

My holiday surprise came when I spent some time on my mage. Regular readers will recall that I have struggled with mage play style forever, and that I tend to have a sort of love-hate relationship with the class. I stereotype it as a stand-still-and-cast class, and cloth-squishy to boot. So imagine my delight when I discovered that my fire mage is very mobile, and that she has some considerable defensive abilities. I am having a blast with her, trying now to get her gear level to a point where I can jump into a few of our guild alt runs in Antorus. I have always said I think fire mages have the best visuals in the game, and I think that even more now that I am actually playing one.

I get enormous satisfaction from a streak of Heating Up and Hot Streak procs, and these happen very frequently. Thinking about it, the absence of that is one of the things that makes BM hunter play so dull — you just do not get any fun procs to really get your adrenaline going. Back in the day, the thing I absolutely loved about SV hunter was getting that Lock and Load proc — it was pure joy when it went off and BAM! you knew you had a chance to do some very significant extra damage. It just never got old. The puny, yawn-inducing almost-unnoticeable procs you get on BM these days do not even come close. Thanks again, Blizz, for sucking the fun out of huntering.

I actually hope Blizz takes its time with Battle for Azeroth. I will be perfectly happy to play a lot of my alts for several months. As my game time is usually limited to around 20 hours a week or so, I have not so far had the luxury of both maintaining a raiding main and doing end game play on my alts. I am hoping 2018 allows me to give my main a rest and spend most of my game time on some of my favorite (and possibly even new) alts.

Mixed alt messages

Over the weekend I spent a few hours on my outlaw rogue alt. I like this alt, but he is not one of my “main” alts, if there is such a thing. He was already at 110 and had worked through the basic parts of Broken Shore and the class hall quest lines (but not the class mount one), but he had done nothing more than the intro quest to just get him aboard the Vindicaar.

The reason I hauled him out of mothballs is because he is my inscriptionist, and I usually provide most of the vantus runes we hand out in raid while we are doing progression. I craft them and send them to the RL, who passes them out to the raid just before whichever boss we think will be the toughest one for the week. They may be a crutch, but we have found they often make that small bit of difference — especially early on in a tier — that lets us walk away with a kill instead of a series of wipes.

So I dusted him off and ran a quick LFR to get the level 1 vantus rune recipe for Antorus the Burning Throne. My experience, if anyone is interested, is that it takes approximately 100 herbs at level 1 to mill enough mats to make one vantus rune, maybe a bit less with Dreamleaf which gives a bonus, or Astral Glory which seems to have a higher drop rate. So about 2000 herbs — 10 full stacks — for 20 vantus runes. Last tier I never did get beyond the level 1 recipe, mainly because of course the higher levels are random drops in the raid itself. (*sigh* RNG is such fun™)

Of course, if I regularly ran LFR on my rogue, I would theoretically increase my chances to get the level 2 technique, paving the way for level 3 and greatly decreased mat requirements. To make that LFR experience a little more pleasant, I figured doing Argus dailies and invasions would help gear him up (he is currently sitting at something like 905 ilvl) and increase his artifact level/effectiveness.

Unfortunately, for some reason Blizz has seen fit to require that every character has to unlock the various Argus dailies. It is not an account-wide achievement. At this point someone will inevitably assert something like, “Oh, you can knock those quests out in 20 minutes,” but trust me that is just not true. It takes me hours, and I suspect that is the case for most people. My rogue is the 4th character I have taken through the process, and it is starting to get old.

Blizz will proudly list for us all the “alt-friendly” changes they have made to Legion, and I do not deny they have made quite a few. But the fact remains that Legion started out as probably the most alt-hostile expansion in recent history, so to throw us a few bones that serve to make it only slightly less alt-hostile is not much to brag about in my opinion. Ion Hazzikostas believes that the only legitimate way to play alts is to force them into the same end game cattle chute as a main, and he has finally shaped the game to implement his personal opinion on the matter.

Now, finally, my point. Legion — by design — discourages alt play. I suspect (of course I do not have any publicly disclosed numbers to back this up) Blizz has seen the number of alts at max level take a nosedive in this expansion. By introducing Allied Races, suddenly Blizz is encouraging us to start brand new alts. Why the new ones? Why not just make some more changes that will nudge us to finally spend time with the ones we have?

As an aside, I am totally confused about what Patch 7.3.5. will bring. Suddenly it seems like it will include a whole bunch of things I could swear we were told at Blizzcon would be part of Battle for Azeroth. What gives? Has Blizz discovered they cannot possibly meet a reasonable BfA deadline and thus need to give us a bunch of new shinies to keep us busy? Are some of the promised changes so complex that they need to use 7.3.5 as a testing ground for them? Have they given up on making significant class balance changes — as they told us every “dot 5” patch would be — and need something else to make it seem like a major patch? Maybe it is all part of a grand plan for 7.3.5 to ooze into BfA, but it sure is confusing.

It is true that players have been whining for new races for a while now, so certainly this will be a popular move. But consider:

  • You cannot start one until you have met some rather lengthy max-level rep requirements on your main (and possibly other requirements, too, we don’t really know yet for sure).
  • The new alt leveling will coincide with what from all reports is a significantly lengthened leveling process due to Blizz’s zone leveling and increase of XP required for most levels.
  • Just encouraging players to play with alts they already have would absolutely not require as much play time as leveling a new one under these circumstances.
  • It will come at the end of an expansion, historically the time when players lose interest and go do other leisure activities until the next expansion.

Yeah. It is almost certain that the Monthly Active User (MAU) metric is at work here, notably the need to maintain high MAU numbers as a corporate measure of a game’s success. Although Blizz has often said the nature of WoW is that it is cyclical, and it is something they plan for and accept, clearly they are working furiously to change that business plan.

Will I level a new Allied Race alt? Sure, and I expect it will be a nice distraction during the waning days of Legion. My choice, even though I know I am being manipulated: Blizz discourages me from playing alts, except the ones they approve of, at the time they approve of, at the leveling pace they approve of, with the preconditions they have set.

I love Big Brother, and there are five lights. Life is so much easier when you accept these things.

More Antorus

We have had another week of the new raid tier, Antorus the Burning Throne. On Tuesday, Mythic and the first wing of LFR opened. I still have not seen anything to change my initial opinion of it: Great artwork, a few interesting boss mechanics, but not a tier that will wear well enough to last almost a year until the next expansion.

This is an observation, not a complaint: the raid is easier than either Tomb of Sargeras or Nighthold. I say that even though our raid team has only done 4/11 Heroic bosses. Of course, the remaining ones could be impossibly hard on Heroic, but judging by the progress of guilds on my server — which is decidedly not a raiding server — within a couple of weeks there will likely be several guilds that are 11/11 (H). I would venture to say that within a month the top 10-15 guilds on the server will have heroic on farm. Whether they decide to farm it for the raid trinket system or the somewhat puny tier gear is an open question.

My initial concern that the sheer size of the raid would hinder farming seems to have been unfounded. We have some Thursday scheduling problems, so last night instead of continuing with progression on heroic, we did normal with about 20 people. We had no problems completing a full clear in less than our normal 4-hour raid time.

We had fun last night, and it is good to be back into some actual problem-solving raiding again, but I still don’t see this raid holding my interest once we have heroic on farm. For one thing, of course, we are at the end of the expansion, and there is a certain amount of burnout that inevitably takes place. For another, the gear from this raid does not excite me much. Honestly, what is the point of grubbing out every piece of gear you can get when this is the last raid of the expansion?

Blizz buffed a couple of specs’ t21 bonuses this past week, but most of them are still uninspiring. And the special trinket system seems like a self-licking ice cream cone to me: you get it by raiding so that you can be more efficient at raiding. The only reason I can see to keep running this raid is to eventually upgrade the “regular” special trinkets as a back door to being able to equip three legendaries. (Assuming you do not get the one legendary trinket drop from Argus, which I am absolutely certain I will not.) Even that seems a stretch, given that there is not another raid tier to prepare for.

I wonder if, after a few guilds have this raid on farm, that the group emphasis in Legion will shift in a big way to M+. If that is really the only challenge left after Antorus, it seems likely. (And would force some continuing gear farming from the raid, since gear is an important factor for high level M+ runs.) This, of course, creates a bigger esports audience for the next M+ tournament, which in turn fuels Blizz’s emerging game focus. We have a few people in our guild who are hooked on M+, but it is not really my thing. I run one or two a week, mainly to get the weekly chest, but I do not generally enjoy timed activities.

Back to the Antorus raid. I still think the last three bosses are the most fun and engaging. (And I still think the tower defense Eonar is annoying to the max.) Argus especially, with the planned wipe and the smart use of death as a raid weapon, seems to be one of the most innovative bosses Blizz has given us in a while. Even after Blizz up-tuned it earlier this week, it was a fun fight on Normal last night. It definitely requires some raid planning and some decent team coordination, and when that comes together it really is quite satisfying.

Short post today and one with no profound thoughts, but there is lots going on in my real world schedule. See you all on the other side of the weekend.

Testing the game for Blizz

Today Blizz has posted a rather long and ardent plea for WoW players to create characters on the 7.3.5 Public Test Realm. Blizz has made similar basic requests for other patches in testing, so this in itself is not really new. What does seem a little out of the ordinary, though, is the slightly desperate tone in this one. The announcement is quite a bit longer than usual, with detailed instructions on exactly how to download the PTR and create a new character, along with the usual how-to-give-feedback directions and the promise that players’ comments are extremely valuable. As the PTR has been up for a while, my tea-leaves reading is that not enough players are participating, and in particular that the “usual crowd” is not likely to be the kind of players interested in leveling a new character.

Lots to sort out here.

First, let’s think about the kind of player that usually is active on a PTR. Of course, I have no hard data on demographics here, but my anecdotal experience is that most PTR participants are not part of the vast majority of casual players. There are hard core types that form PTR guilds and want to get a good look at dungeons and raids, there are theory crafters and min-maxers who want to check out class changes, some people wanting to figure out profession changes, some who are curious about new quality of life changes. And there are a ton of tourists, players who like to get a quick look at the whole smorgasboard of changes, but once they have seen them they are pretty well done — they are not players with the time or the interest or the patience to spend hours on the PTR, deal with the inevitable crashes and major bugs, document the details of their observations, and so forth.

Blizz must certainly know this, but this time they really need players willing to take a new character through a big chunk of early leveling, because one of the major parts of 7.3.5 is the new low level zone leveling throughout Azeroth. Absent some pretty heavy testing of this system, Blizz knows they could have a mess on their hands when it goes live, just due to low traffic not discovering major shortfalls.

Second, there is a perception that when Blizz requests feedback, they really only care about obvious bugs, not what players experience in a squishier sense. I can certainly understand Blizz’s emphasis on “hard data” versus comments like “it feels boring”. In one sense, there is nothing they can do with a comment like the latter, but from another perspective if they get a lot of similar such comments they certainly ought to take them seriously and do some work to figure out the basis for them.

And then, of course, there is the example of the alpha/beta and the PTR for Legion, where hunters as well as other classes documented many, many playstyle problems — these were serious players who offered a ton of details and theorycrafting numbers to back up the claims — and Blizz blatantly ignored them for months even after Legion went live.

If there is a widespread perception that Blizz ignores player feedback on the actual play experience — which in the end is what really matters to most players — it is going to be difficult to convince large numbers of players to keep beating their heads against that brick wall. I think there is an implicit contract when a company uses its customers to do quality control of their product: the customers find the obvious product errors for the company, and the company in turn makes the product more pleasing to the customers even if “pleasing” does not involve immediately quantifiable product errors. You want us to find the bugs in your code, Blizz, fine, but in return we want to feel like we can actually shape the game.

Sure, it is impossible to incorporate every player’s WoW wish list, but when a huge number of players express the same set of dissatisfactions, Blizz needs them to know they are being taken seriously. And a boilerplate statement such as “We take every comment seriously” — absent any evidence of that — rings hollow.

Blizz has steadfastly refused to address widespread player concerns, has arrogantly declined to give feedback in any kind of organized fashion. When large numbers of players point out virtually the same thing, even if Blizz has no intention of changing it, they owe it to players to explain why. They have underinvested in structured player feedback mechanisms, preferring to rely on what seem to be random events once in a while to make a short cryptic comment on a few carefully selected items. It’s almost as if they are applying their beloved RNG even to this aspect of the game.

Third, a dearth of PTR involvement may be one of the real downsides to Blizz’s Legion interpretation of “content”. I usually like to participate in major patch PTRs, often spend quite a lot of time working my way through various parts of them and giving what I think is reasonable feedback. But I feel like I simply do not have the time to do this now — my play time for months has been consumed with chasing rep or doing long drawn out quest lines or grinding out profession requirements or bringing a few alts to minimal play level or grubbing for AP or gizmos to upgrade legendaries.

Blizz’s emphasis on MAU means my game time is spoken for just doing the live server, no chance I am going to spend hours leveling a new character on the PTR.

So, yeah, I understand why they are begging players to spend a lot of time on the PTR. But strategic decisions sometime have unforeseen consequences, and here we are seeing a possible negative consequence of Blizz’s decisions to cater mainly to hard core players, to undervalue regular customer feedback mechanisms, and to force feed “content” to players.

The way home

This post contains a few spoilers. Skip it if you are sensitive to that kind of thing.

I am frequently very hard on Blizz, especially when it comes to what I believe is their inability to carry out a clear and cohesive expansion, one where each individual piece contributes to a well-stated strategic message for the expansion. What often starts out as a nicely-encapsulated picture nearly always disintegrates into an everything-bagel mashup in which it seems like every dev with a half-baked idea gets to throw something into the mix, regardless of how — or even if — the idea is synchronized with the stated theme. And in the coming months, as we learn more about Battle for Azeroth, I am sure I will continue to berate Blizz for this constant shortcoming.

But today I am going to hand out a compliment: At least so far, I think Blizz is doing a bang-up job of preparing the path back to Azeroth for us.

In past expansions, we do not really get any prep for the next one until the very tail end. Usually the prep is in the form of a major patch that among other changes introduces a quest line or two, or some mechanism, to transition to the next expansion. In WoD, we had the worldwide invasion scenarios, for example. These were designed pragmatically to allow us to catch up alts and prepare them minimally for Legion (and also to give us something to do in the waning days of WoD), but story-wise they laid the groundwork for the Legion experience and ultimately taking the battle to the Legion’s own planet.

In the current expansion, I am seeing a subtle difference in that approach. I have no information on the release date for BfA, but most prognosticators think we are about a year out from it. Yet even this far out we are getting some major transitional mechanics for it, and the data mining for 7.3.5 tells us there are a lot more such transitional mechanics in the works.

Already, for example, the defeat of Argus in the new raid tier removes the ugly scar of the broken planet from Azerothian skies. (I assume this will be visible to all players as soon as the final LFR wing opens.) No longer does this epic fight for our survival consume every waking moment, no longer are we reminded of the looming danger every time we glance at the sky.

Patch 7.3.5 goes further. We will see our artifact weapons start to phase out. We will see the groundwork laid to establish homes for the Allied Races, thus placing Legion’s Broken Shores zones into historical context as the place where we met and formed relationships with these new races.

So, probably a full year out from BfA, we are getting the sense that the war is almost over. We won. And now, fulfilling the dream of soldiers everywhere, we are going home. As in real wars, though, going home is not an immediate thing. There is equipment to clean and repair and turn in, there are a million administrative tasks to complete before we can actually get on that plane, there are security promises to allies that must be fulfilled. But there is an undeniable change: We are no longer engaged in a struggle for our very existence, we have emerged victorious from those dark days, and we are ever so slowly bound for home.

I do not know if this kind of attitude shift was Blizz’s intent, or if more practically they just need to start surreptitiously testing some of the major planned BfA changes and 7.3.5 seems like the ideal cover for it since the beta seems nowhere close yet. Whatever the reason, from an immersion™ standpoint, it works for me. I really feel like we have won a long campaign, and now we can go home with our heads held high. If Blizz can maintain this trend, the transition to BfA will be in my opinion the smoothest ever in the game. (Of course, I think we should go home to our own player housing, but that is a complaint for another day.)

Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

(Requiem, by Robert Louis Stevenson)

“Going home” evokes some of the warmest emotions anyone can express in any language.  It feels good. Nicely done, Blizz.